Google CEO Sundar Pichai Finally Speaks Up About Project Dragonfly

Sundar Pichai speaks onstage at WIRED25 Summit
Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for WIRED25 )

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has finally made a public statement about the controversial Project Dragonfly.

Speaking onstage at the WIRED 25th anniversary summit in San Francisco on Monday, Pichai for the first time commented about launching a censored search engine for China.

Google did not confirm the existence of Project Dragonfly until its chief privacy officer Keith Enright spoke at a Senate hearing in September. Enright did not even provide much information about the project.

Google’s Project Dragonfly would block search results for queries that the Chinese government considers sensitive such as “student protest” and “human rights.”

Pichai’s statements at WIRED 25 provided more details about the project. He acknowledged Google’s plan to create a censored search engine for China and said that the company found that it could serve well over 99 percent of the queries despite China’s strict censorship laws.

Pichai said that Google would be able to provide users with better information than what is currently available for them on important subjects such as treatments for cancer.

He also said that the efforts were still in the early stage but Google is interested in experimenting with how the censored version of its search product could work.

“We wanted to learn what it would look like if Google were in China, so that’s what we built internally,” Pichai said, according to CNBC. “If Google would operate in China, what would it look like? What queries would we be able to serve?”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the WIRED25 Summit.
  Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for WIRED25

Google has not yet decided if it will indeed launch the project but should this push through, the company’s biggest competition in the East Asian country would be Baidu.

Google used to have a search engine in China but concerns over government censorship prompted the company to shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, leading to a loss of a huge market of 772 million internet users.

Google, in particular, cited cyber attacks from China that target human rights activists and the country’s efforts to limit free speech on the web by blocking other sites and online services such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google Docs for its decision to pull out from China.

Critics said that Project Dragonfly shows that Google has reneged on the values that prompted it to leave China nine years ago.

Pichai, nonetheless, said that working on a search engine is in line with Google’s mission to provide information to everyone, and China notably has 20 percent of the world’s population.